Archaeologists hold a religious ceremony to ask the spirit protecting the site for permission to move the statue. (Image: Apsara Authority via The Cambodia Daily)

Describing it as something that only happens in the movies, a team of Cambodian archaeologists have uncovered an 800-year-old sandstone statue weighing 440 pounds. Experts say it’s the most significant statue to be discovered in the famous archaeological site of Angkor Park in years.

Archaeologists and looters have been sifting through the dirt of Cambodia’s Angkor Archaeological Park for years, and these days very little is unearthed other than the odd pottery shard. This area is home to the largest religious monument in the world—a Hindu temple built by the Khmer empire in the early 12th century, and later transformed into a Buddhist monument. So imagine the surprise when archaeologists with the Apsara Authority, the government organization that manages Angkor Park, unearthed this incredible statue, just 16 inches underground.

Image: Apsara Authority

As The Cambodia Daily reports, the sandstone statue was discovered on the second day of an excavation at Angkor Park, a popular tourist destination. The statue, which once stood six feet and three inches high, is missing its arms and lower legs, but the remainder is surprisingly intact. Engravings on its body and head are still clearly visible. Authorities say the statue will be studied, cleaned, and put on public exhibition in a museum at the northwestern province of Siem Reap, where Angkor is located.

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The statue was made in the image of a guard, and it is thought to have once stood at the entrance of a hospital that was located next to the northern entrance of Angkor Thom, the famed walled city of King Jayavarman VII. During his reign, this 12th century king was responsible for the construction of over a hundred hospitals across his empire. Ankgor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, which prospered from the 9th to 15th centuries. The hospital where this statue was found was one of four built in the area, none of which have been throughly excavated.

“Jayavarman VII’s reign was truly remarkable in terms of social programs,” said Tan Boun Suy, deputy director-general for the Apsara Authority, in The Cambodia Daily. “The hospital consisted of wooden buildings and a chapel erected in stones. What is left is the chapel…as wooden structures have long disappeared.”

The Apsara archaeologists will be working in the area for another 12 days, and they’re hoping to make further discoveries. Not much is known about these hospitals and how they worked, or about the lives or ordinary people who lived during the time. In addition to this massive statue, the archaeologists also unearthed a piece of another statue, and evidence of wooden structures, including roof tiles and ceramics.

Image: Apsara Authority

The archaeologists are also hoping to find statues of the Buddha. During the reign of King Jayavarman VIII, many statues of the Buddha were destroyed in an attempt to restore Brahmanism in the country. Some of the remaining statues were looted, but some statues of the Buddha were buried for protection. Back in 2011, archaeologists at the Angkor Wat temple discovered a pair of large Buddha statues, the largest to be found there in eight decades.

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With the discovery of this hospital guard, there’s now hope of finding other forgotten treasures.

[The Cambodia Daily via BBC]